Thursday, 28 February 2013

On History

Mrs Lintott: Now. How do you define history, Mr Rudge?
Rudge: Can I speak freely, Miss? Without being hit?
Mrs Lintott: I will protect you.
Rudge: How do I define history? It's just one f**kin' thing after another.
From Alan Bennett's "The History Boys"

I'm really not sure where this picture is from- I've had this on my computer for years, so if you know, give me a shout!

I think I've mentioned before that I studied history at university.

As such, I am a full on history nerd. Give me a book about history (novel, or non fiction), and you've got me hooked. 

However, I know it's a proper marmite subject- people either adore it, like me, or find it deathly dull and dropped it at the first possible opportunity. I actually blame schools for a lot of this-  there is often a lot of focus on high politics (which can be incredibly dry), and the same subjects are often studied over and over- namely the World Wars, Hitler and Henry's (VII and particularly VIII), and maybe Stalin if your school fancied being a bit different (like mine. Though I'm not complaining, I got a trip to Russia out of it!!)

Some history students/ historians get very cross at historical novels, because very often they aren't particularly historically accurate, but in my opinion, if they get a few people looking into the actual historical events that the novel is based on, then that's fantastic.

So this is my attempt at introducing you all to some different parts of history, in the form of historical novels and stuff. Call me ridiculous, but I like learning random facts, and hopefully they might introduce you to looking up some other history related stuff, and hopefully you'll enjoy this!!


If I Laugh was another of my sources for my dissertation. It's a memoir, written by a British journalist caught up in the Exode. My copy is full of underlines, and I'm so excited to go back an read it again now I can without feeling sick about my dissertation. (yes I'm aware this is about WW2. It's allowed because it's that brilliant.) For some criminal reason this is actually out of print, but there are some copies floating around on Amazon!


 The History Boys is amazing. Like seriously brilliantly funny. I've seen the play twice, and own the film- and I think I even wrote in my UCAS application. Yeah, I'm that cool. If you haven't seen it, it's about a group of history students who are preparing for university entrance exams, and it is amazing. GO AND WATCH IT NOW.




I actually met Adeline Yen Mah at a book fair when I was about thirteen. She is a seriously incredible woman, and I wept at this book. Falling Leaves is about a Chinese girl/woman, whose mother dies when she is born, and is therefore considered bad luck by her family. So beautifully written, and heartbreaking without being a "I had a terrible childhood, woe is me" type book. And some of the information about Chinese history is just fascinating, particularly the stuff about foot-binding.

Soz about the dodgy picture...

And finally, The Odyssey. I love Ancient Greek history, and studied some ancient history in my first year- it's so interesting. For example, did you know that this entire book would have been memorised by a blind bard, who would have wandered around telling people the story at feasts and stuff? That's why almost everything has an epithet- to remind people of what certain things are. Count how many "rosy-fingered dawn"s there are. But if you can't be bothered to read it, watch O Brother Where Art Thou- it's based on it!


So, now I've left you with that lovely lot, I'm off to watch The History Boys for the millionth time.

Wednesday, 27 February 2013

Little Quirks

I saw a post about quirks over on Megan's blog yesterday, and loved it, so thought I'd jump on the bandwagon and join in.

I know there have been loads of "50 things about me" posts going around recently, so I'm probably a little late to the party. But for some reason the idea of going with "quirks" rather than a huuuuuge list of random facts
(though to be completely honest, I LOVE reading everyone else's. I'm nosey like that)

Picture from my friend's 21st, in 2011. Yes, that is a Twister bouncy castle.

So here are some of my little quirks! 

1. I HATE not having my toenails painted. It makes me feel so weird, my toes just feel sort of... naked?! I don't know. I also hate not wearing eyeliner. 

2. I constantly make wishes. At 11:11, on stars, on lost eyelashes, when a rainbow appears, when I see a single magpie (yes, I am aware that you should just salute at them, but I make wishes, okay?!)

3. I am a full on morning person. Think singing, dancing around the kitchen, and pretending to use apples as grenades (my brother was using a banana as a fake gun).

4. I find lunch a very stressful meal. I never know what to have, particularly at work. Soup is great, but my new office doesn't have a microwave (sob sob), so I have to take other things. And coupled with giving bread up for Lent, my goodness it's hard to think up yummy things to take. Do you have any ideas?!

5. If I have a spare five minutes, particularly if I'm waiting for something, or if I'm bored, you're likely to find me making paper cranes. I learnt to make them one summer, and have never really stopped...

Yeah, so I need to dust the top of my computer...

Have you done a post like this? Pop your link in the comments section, I'd love to have a look!

Tuesday, 26 February 2013

Wiltshire Weekend

As I might have mentioned once or twice (sorry, I was really excited!), I went away to Wiltshire last weekend. 

For those of you not from the UK (or those of you who are, but are as bad at geography as I am), here is a map showing where Wiltshire is within England/ the UK:


I, and a group of university friends, went to stay at our friend's farm. We've all been there before, and absolutely love visiting- Wiltshire is a beautiful part of the world, and M, our hostess, always makes us feel so welcome and looks after us really well.

Few things are homelier than a dresser like this...

When we arrived, tired and teasy after a long journey straight from work, she had supper waiting- which involved a lot of wine, and amazing brownies for pudding....


We then started watching Pretty Woman, which to the other girls' shock, I had never seen before. To everyone's shock, the boys enjoyed it as much, if not more, than the girls. Had to postpone it due to extreme exhaustion on everyone's part, but when we finished it- oh my god! SUCH  a good film.

Saturday morning began with pancakes made by my own fair hand, and when we were all showered and dressed, we headed out for a walk in the Wiltshire countryside. Despite living in the UK for all of my life, I am always amazed at how different parts of the country can be SO different. All beautiful, though. 




This is proof that I have a pretty tiny head...



 Walk finished, we headed to the pub for a well deserved half-of-cider and packet of crisps.



Now, we all love an excuse for a dinner party, casual or otherwise. And given that we hadn't all been together since last June, this was the perfect occasion. Cue crisps and dip, olives, and sundried tomatoes to start (accompanied by a classic G&T), pheasant and chorizo casserole with perfect mash, apple and blackberry crumble, and of course, a cheese board. Like I said, thoroughly spoilt!! We also may or may not have drank a LOT more wine, resulting in several very inappropriate games of Consequences, which made me laugh til my stomach hurt and til wine nearly came out of my nose.

Place settings and everything- we like pretending to be fancy.



 Sunday involved a lazy morning, a broken water pipe (fortunately after I had showered, unfortunately, before half the group had), a wander on the farm, and amazing roast beef before we all headed home.

Beautiful daffodils- a sign spring is on its way!!
 




Despite the fact that it took me four hours to get home (without hitting traffic!), I wouldn't have changed the weekend for the world. There's nothing quite like a weekend with your favourites to perk you right back up!

Monday, 25 February 2013

Happiness is... (vol.4)

I am definitely going to get the numbering of these posts messed up at some point soon. Let me know if I do?!

So yeah, I'm back!!! But sadly, it is Monday again- but here are some little/ not so little happy things to cheer me (and hopefully you) up a bit!!

So today, Monday 25th February/ whatever Arctic month we're still in, happiness is....

... an amazing, long overdue weekend with incredible friends. There will be a full post on my weekend away tomorrow, but for today, let's say there are few things better for the soul than a weekend filled with country air, fantastic food, even better friends, and three adorable dogs.


... the first week at my new job being OVER. Nothing is more stressful than week one in a new job, in my opinion (if you disagree you better have a seriously good case for your stressful thing), so I am VERY HAPPY that that is over with and I can now just get properly stuck in!

... Open fires. I LOVE ours at home, and it is on the go pretty much all the time at the moment, because it is STILL SO COLD. 


... Waitrose Basil and Pecorino dip. Oh. My. God. This is amazing. Try it now, and bring me some while you're at it.

... You all. And particularly, your seriously lovely comments on this post. You are all brilliant, commenters or not.

How was your weekend? Any particular happinesses to report!?

Friday, 22 February 2013

Weekend Away!

I am off to play in another part of the countryside with some of my absolute favourite people in the world straight after work today. 

I am SO EXCITED. 

So there won't be any new posts this weekend- I think I'm going to be completely off the grid, with no mobile signal or 3G signal. And I am really looking forward to this.



So, I shall be seeing you next week! Have a lovely weekend everyone!

Thursday, 21 February 2013

Getting Past It

I've mentioned before that I have an ex.


This really isn't a particularly revolutionary piece of news (though in the blogosphere it definitely seems like us singletons may be in the minority- but I will happily be corrected here).

He broke up with me back in October, Thursday the 4th, if you want to get really specific. There was no cheating, no big blow-out arguments, just a change of feelings (from his perspective). Naturally, I was left feeling pretty devastated. I went through all the typcials- struggled to sleep, couldn't eat (and lost half a stone in about four days in the process), and shed a fair few tears.


But I was three weeks into a new job, so I couldn't just curl up in a ball and let the world wash over me. And in some ways, it came at a really good time- one of my best friends came home the Saturday after it happened, and the following weekend I had already planned to go an see my closest uni friends. This did mean I had to explain what had happened OVER AND OVER (it was a bit of a bolt from the blue for them, and for me to be honest). 


But so many people have commented on how well I dealt with it. How strong I was being. My god I didn't feel strong. I felt like the smallest gust of wind would blow me away while I tried to pretend it was just another time apart (it had been a long distance relationship). And I didn't WANT to feel back to normal. I wanted to miss him and be sad about it.


But slowly, I started to get used to not hearing from him. And my stomach stopped flipping every time his name cropped up on my Facebook or when I got the occasional text from him. And now, all that's left is a wistful sadness when I remember the time we had together, a small amount of anger about the way he dealt with his change in feelings (which is not something I am going to discuss), but really, just a feeling of... peace, maybe? Back-to-normal-ness? Some sort of OK, at any rate.


My only real residual sadness relates to the fact that I'll never get to go to the beautiful place where he lived again (which was in the British Isles). The photos peppering this are ones I took on visits to him. Because I'm hoping that if I share them with you all, they won't be clogging up my brain. 

But yeah. I'm OK now. I think I'm getting my muchness back, after four (nearly five) months without it.

Wednesday, 20 February 2013

World's Easiest Chocolate Cake

This  cake is probably the easiest chocolate cake IN THE WORLD.

No jokes. It's a piece of cake (pun fully intended).

I make this at every opportunity, because it is consistently good, keeps well (in theory, I've never had any left over to keep), and, let's be honest, who doesn't love chocolate cake? And by every opportunity I mean EVERY opportunity. And as the following pictures show, it's versatile to decorate. This cake has been used as follows...

Little nephew's first birthday cake...

Little sister's fourth birthday cake
Revision treat cake
Random Sunday cake...
Treat for my lovely big brother
This is my mum's recipe, so it's in ounces, not grams. Sorry about this, but it just works perfectly like this, so I've never been inclined to alter the recipe! But if you want to, there are some greaat converters out there on t'interwebs.

You will need...
7oz plain flour
5oz soft brown sugar (light or dark works fine
1 tsp baking powder
1 tsp bicarbonate of soda
2 tbsp cocoa powder
2 tbsp golden syrup
1/4 pint milk
1/4 pint sunflower/ vegetable oil (NOT olive- just anything flavourless)
2 eggs

What to do...
Sift your flour, raising agents, and cocoa powder into a big bowl. Stir in the sugar until it's all well combined. Then make a well in the middle, pour in the rest of your ingredients, and beat well until it's all really well combined (you literally can't overbeat this, so don't worry!). Then pour into either two or three (both work fine- my sister's birthday cake was three layers, same quantities of batter) eight-inch loose bottomed tins, greased with a bit of oil and lined (now I tend to just do the bases) with baking paper. Bake at 170C for around 30 minutes, or until a skewer inserted into the middle comes out clean. It'll look like this when it's done: 


The cake domes a LOT, so when you take them out of the tins (let  them cool in there for about 15 minutes first), you'll probably want to turn them upside down so they flatten a little. And even then, you may need to trim a bit before icing.

To ice, I tend to use 200g butter, 400g icing sugar, 2 tbsp cocoa powder, and a good splash of milk, and beat it with a hand blender until really fluffy- this makes enough to fill and cover the whole outside, with enough left for pretty borders, if you can be bothered.


YUM. May have to make this now. Where did I put my oven gloves....?

Tuesday, 19 February 2013

Commuting

As I've mentioned before, I have a new job! 

It's in a field I'm really interested in, which is brilliant. The only possible disadvantage of this job is the fact I have a MUCH longer commute- 42 miles instead of 13, though it does only take me 20 minutes longer to get there. So far, I've managed not to get lost (which is seriously impressive for me), or to crash into a sheep/ Dartmoor Pony/ drystone wall- let's all keep our fingers crossed that none of these things happen, ever!

But to be honest, I would quite happily put my hand up and say I have one of the nicest commutes in Britain. 

I mean, LOOK AT IT. These photos are a few snaps I took of just one little part of the journey, but pretty much the whole thing is lovely.

I did stop to take this, honest!


An attempt at a panorama... not toooo too bad.
Another picture with my face in it! Shocker. As you can see, the moors make me pretty happy.

The road to nowhere? Nooo it goes to work!
 

And coming home, I get to see sunsets like this. Pictures can't do moorland sunsets justice.
As I said in this post, I feel seriously fortunate to live where I do. I would MUCH rather have an hour long commute with views like these, than be crammed in a tube train like a sardine or sit for an hour on the M25. But that's just me.

And when you have a long commute in your own car, you get to listen to amazing music and sing as loud as you like! Here are a couple of my current favourites:

Jesus Jackson- Running on Sunshine
Such a great song to wake up to and sing along to on your way to work!



Taylor Swift- I Knew You Were Trouble
I unapologetically love this song. Don't hate me.


Tom Waits- Jersey Girl
I just love this. And there is nothing better than putting a song you can really belt out on when you're driving


Do you have to go a long way to get to work? Or are you lucky enough to still be in walking distance of university (sob sob)? 

Monday, 18 February 2013

Happiness is.. (vol.3)

Monday! 

That means it's time for my weekly happiness post. I have a LOT to be happy about this week, so yay for that!

So this week, happiness is...

... starting a new job!! I left my last post on Friday, and was so sad to go- I have made some wonderful friends there, and was thoroughly spoiled when I left- but I am really excited for a new challenge. I'm sure I'll keep you posted on how I'm getting on!

My lovely leaving gifts from work!
... being given a brand new iPhone even though mine was out of warranty. Smiling sweetly at the boys in the Apple Store worked, apparently! (I was as shocked as you are)

... a Valentine's card from Bruce, who is a squirrel. At my old work, we had a bird feeder on a tree outside the window, which a squirrel would regularly eat from. This really wound up my colleague, but I loved it, and named him Bruce (after Willis, Bogtrotter, Lee, and Springsteen). And he gave me a Valentine (or rather, a lovely work friend made it for him, complete with homemade squirrel brooch).

This is the best Valentine I have ever received.
... matching socks. I have a MASSIVE issue with odd socks, which most of my friends seem to think is very weird (personally, I think they are weird). So my lovely friend L sent me THIS picture of her wearing matching socks- and it made my week.


... Sunshine! Oh goodness me how I have missed the sun. We managed to see some blue skies this weekend, and it has made me feel SO different!

What are you happy about this week?

Saturday, 16 February 2013

On my bookshelf...

I learnt to read at the age of two.



I know this is utterly ridiculous, but I swear to go it's true. J is two and a bit years older than me, so when he was starting school and learning to read with Mum, I sat next to him and learnt too. And since, I've loved books, as you might be able to guess from my over-stuffed bookshelf.

I LOVE reading other people's thoughts on books, and Good Reads is brilliant for this. If you have a look at my profile, you will see that I have a big love for historical fiction, but that my reading habits are pretty varied- and I'll be updating this a lot, as I constantly have a massive "want to read" list in my head.

So I thought I'd share my thoughts on some books... If you aren't into book reviews/ reading/ already have a "to read" list as big as a house, feel free to stop reading now.


First up, Atonement, by Ian McEwan. If you've seen the film, you'll know what this is about- if you haven't, it's the story of a young girl who sees something she doesn't understand, gets completely the wrong end of the stick, and essentially ruins two other people's lives because of it. Ian McEwan is one of my favourite authors, and this is my favourite book of his by far. I also think the film is really good, and actually stays quite close to the novel. The writing is brilliant, and I can't recommend this highly enough.

If you're more into the dystopian alternate reality sort of thing, Never Let Me Go could be for you. Again, the film was good, but not as close to the novel as Atonement. I kind of don't want to explain the story, as I think that would give a lot away, but again, the writing is fantastic and it reminds us that deep down, we're all human with exactly the same emotions. Love this. 


Suite Francaise was the inspiration for my final-year dissertation (hence all the post-its down the side!). It was written by a Jewish Russian woman, who was a naturalised French citizen, about the exode which occurred when Germany invaded France in 1940. She was later killed in Auschwitz, and this novel (which was "unfinished" at the time of her death) lay undiscovered for fifty years. The book is in two parts, the first of which follows various Parisians as they flee the city ahead of the German army, and the second relates to the Occupation more directly. It's hard to imagine that this could have been more perfect if she'd "finished" it- I think it's incredible as it is.

A lot of people have read Birdsong, but I don't know whether people would have read Engleby, which is so darkly different to Birdsong that it's hard to believe they're written by the same author. Again, telling you a lot about the story would give things away, but it's darkly funny and really very good. Read it.


How To Breathe Underwater is, as Monica Ali has sad on the cover, unbelievably good. It's a collection of short stories, which normally I wouldn't like, but this really drew me in and I loved it. I definitely prefer some of the stories to others- I often skip one of them- but the title story is definitely my favourite. Even if you aren't into short stories, this is worth reading.


And finally, a "currently reading". HHhH stands for Himmler's Hirn hei├čt Heydrich, which translates as "Himmler's brain is called Heydrich". This is a slightly strange book, but fabulous if you studied history, like me. It's both the story of an assassination attempt on Heydrich, "the butcher of Prague", and about the author's struggle against making things up as he wrote. It's almost a Brechtian novel, if that makes sense. I'm really enjoying it, but it's not something I struggle to put down- this might be because reading it takes a fair amount of brain power, which I don't seem to have at the moment!! I'd definitely recommend it though.

OK, so I know I've been almost universally positive here, but seriously, these are all great!!! And I'm not the sort of person to say that a book was rubbish- for example, I am really not a big fan of Catcher in the Rye, which other people adore- as I think reading is so subjective.

What are you reading at the moment? I'm always looking for new recommendations! 

Friday, 15 February 2013

Betsy

After I wrote my first Happiness Is... post, I got a lot of lovely comments from you lot saying how adorable my cat Betsy is.

Clearly, I agree.

Now I'm not saying she's going to be the next Oscar or anything, but she's my favourite, so I thought I'd share some more photos of her with you! Just what I think we all need this morning.

Now I warn you, these are not going to win any prizes for photography. She has a tendency to move when I shove a camera in her face, and she has a problem with one of her eyes which means it weeps quite a lot, which is why her eye looks sore. We've spoken to the vet about it though, and she is fine, so please don't worry about it!

And a last little note about her name... We picked Betsy around the same as we took a trip to North Wales. We stayed near Betwys-y-Coed, which, being the strange Englishfolk that we are, we pronounced as "Betsy Co-Ed". Turns out it's actually pronounced more like "Bet-iss-i-coyd", but the name stuck and Betsy she is.



"Helping" me blog...

... and again.



She always gets the best seat in the house

And she is pretty much terrified of going outside. Seriously.

So there you have it!! Inevitably, she will appear over here a LOT, and this post definitely makes me look a little like a mad cat lady, but I really don't care, because she's brilliant.